Government stops short of sending in commissioners to run Liverpool City Council
Liverpool City Council has been given a stay of execution by the Government and offered a chance to clean up its act following an investigation into its running.
But Government-appointed commissioners will oversee some aspects at the council for a minimum of three years.
Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick sent in his inspector, Max Caller, last December, following the arrest of five people, including the then elected mayor Joe Anderson, linked to Merseyside Police’s Operation Aloft investigations.
They focus on property deals within the City of Liverpool area.
Mr Anderson stepped aside and was administratively suspended by the Labour Party. He has not been charged with any offences and police bail has not been renewed.
Mr Caller, who has investigated troubled authorities Northamptonshire County Council and Tower Hamlets, looked at key departments and authority auditing and governance.
It was reported that Mr Jenrick was considering sending in commissioners to take control of the council, but in the Commons he announced that he has given the council until May 24, to present plans that he believes will improve processes.
Mr Jenrick outlined “multiple apparent failures” within the Labour-run authority which he said paints a “deeply concerning picture” with a “pervasive and rotten culture”.
He said the report recounted documents left in skips or destroyed, the awarding of “dubious” contracts and an “environment of intimidation” for council staff.
And it showed “a failure of proper process relating to property management including compliance with the council’s own standing orders, leading to a continued failure to correctly value land and assets meaning taxpayers frequently lost out,” he said.
“When selling land the report states that Liverpool City Council best interests were not on the agenda.
“Poor governance arrangements for council operated companies and an overall environment of intimidation described in which the only way to survive was to do what was requested without asking too many questions or applying normal professional standards.
“As a whole, the report is unequivocal – that Liverpool City Council has failed in numerous respects to comply with its best value duty.”
He added that the report “further concludes that changes need to be radical, delivered at pace, and there was no confidence that the council itself would be able to implement these to any sensible timescale.
“There may also be further issues of which we are not yet aware, and the report is careful not to speak to matters that might compromise the ongoing police investigation.”
But he also said: “I want to underline the report is not a verdict on all the staff working at Liverpool City Council. In fact the report commends the hard work and dedication of many.”
He praised the current chief executive, Tony Reeves and statutory officers, who he said have taken positive remedial steps, and said: “I hope and expect for Liverpool City Council to take the lead in this path to improvement, however, given the gravity of the inspection findings, I must consider what would happen if the council fails to deliver the necessary changes at the necessary speed.”
If commissioners were sent in to take control of the authority it would only be the fifth time a “statutory intervention” has taken place.
In response to Mr Jenrick’s announcement, Liverpool City Council said it takes the report findings “extremely seriously”.
It added: “Crucially, Max Caller has made it clear that he believes the organisation has already taken steps to address the issues, since the arrival of chief executive Tony Reeves in 2018.
“The council has pledged to address all of the concerns raised and continue its journey of improvement.
“The council’s improvement plan will be published after the local elections.”
Following publication of the Caller report, former elected mayor, Joe Anderson issued a statement, saying: “Under my leadership of 11 years as leader and as the duly elected Mayor of Liverpool, our city has been transformed.
“Even against swinging (sic) Tory cuts, we have protected front line services and supported those most in need. We brought in £50m more a year in business rates and council tax, created 31,000 new jobs and 4,500 new businesses and built 17 new schools.
“The last five years have seen over £10bn spent on schemes that will continue the transformation of our city. These achievements have rocketed Liverpool into a northern powerhouse that the people of our city recognise.
“Today’s headlines do not reflect the dramatic success that we have generated over the last 11 years. With success brings jealousy and I want to digest fully today’s report before commenting on specific details.”
He added: “In the meantime, people should know that I have not been charged with anything and I completely deny the allegations that have been made against me.
“I am grateful and express my sincerest thanks to all those who have supported me throughout this ordeal, which came so conveniently as the ballots for May’s election were being prepared.
“I have co-operated fully with Merseyside Police and will continue to do so.”